Whenever I talk to people about religion, they are often very surprised to hear that I was a Christian for many years. The question that typically follows next is, “what happened”? Of course, the context of this question changes depending on if it has come from a theist or an atheist. When atheists ask me this, they are usually interested in what process I went through to get from a devout believer to questioning the existence of god, often because they’d been through it as well, or had never been believers and were genuinely curious. When theists ask me this, however, it’s posed in a more accusatory manner. As in, what traumatic event happened in my life to separate me from God?
Unfortunately for the theists, there is no dramatic story of loss or heartache that led me away from god. Instead, there was a journey of knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking, which led me toward reason.
I was what I like to call a “hardcore” Christian for much of my teenaged life. I attended a bible camp for a week every summer, and eventually became a Sunday school teacher, and a counsellor at that camp. Yes, friends. That’s right. At one point, I was responsible for teaching children about God. I was involved in the brainwashing of teenagers at a bible camp. And I can only hope that I didn’t inflict too much damage upon them, and that they were able to get out, too.
My transformation from crazy, arrogant, ignorant, silly Christian to (hopefully) a thoughtful, intelligent, critically-thinking atheist, is actually a rather boring and typical story. It was easy to be a Christian in high school. At my school, at least, we weren’t really challenged to think. We weren’t really appropriately corrected when we were wrong. This is what comes from a small town full of religious teachers. When I was 14, and we had one of our first lessons on evolution, I of course would hear nothing of it. Clearly it was poorly explained and understood, as I think it often is in many educational systems. After class, I approached my Biology teacher, whom attended my church (of course). I asked him, quite arrogantly (and with an unbelievable amount of stupidity), “If we came from monkeys, why don’t monkeys sometimes give birth to humans?”
Please allow me a moment to feel utter shame and embarrassment that these words have, at one point, left my lips. Ok. The most horrifying thing is not that I actually spoke these words (which, admittedly, is bad enough), but that my Biology teacher laughed, and said, “Yes, well, that is a good question…” Well, no. It’s not. It’s an unbelievably stupid and ridiculous question, which anyone with any working knowledge of evolution could easily answer. So, being from a small town, as a teenager, it was very easy to remain rooted in total ignorance.
When I moved on to University, things began to change. I had always been very interested in science, and Biology in particular. I began taking classes that actually taught me what evolution was, and how it worked, among other important things like genetics, cellular biology, developmental biology… This was the beginning. It was not only a stage that taught me how the world really worked, but much more importantly, I was forced to THINK, and explain WHY I thought what I did. It was really this, the development of critical thinking skills, that led to my eventual transition to atheism.
When I began my master’s degree, I had moved from crazy Christian to apathetic agnostic. I no longer believed there was a god as seen in the bible; I’d started to understand that many of the experiences I thought I’d had were likely products of my imagination, and I didn’t give heaven or hell another thought. I decided that there truly was no way of knowing if there was a god, and that there wasn’t much point in discussing it. It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to realize there were many very GOOD reasons to discuss religion.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Kenya doing research, and as a result have met a lot of very interesting people. I admit, even until that point, my experience with the LGBT community was fleeting or non-existent. In Kenya, I met several homosexual men, and started to understand that religion isn’t just a nice thing for those who believe, and harmless for the rest- but that these men, who were happy, entertaining, loving, kind, compassionate, and wonderful people, could actually be put in jail in Kenya for being gay. Not for any real, legitimate reason- but simply because it is a largely religious nation, and homosexuality was thought to be against God’s will. This was the point when I began to wonder at the use, and subsequent harm, of religion.
The past year of my life has really been the focal point in my journey to atheism. When I began to meet like minded people, who didn’t believe in god and actually wanted to talk about it, I realized that I did, too- that there is value in exposing the myths and harms of religion- that voicing these opinions can lead to change, and that even if they don’t lead to change, standing in support of the voiceless is a very worthy cause.
Within the last year, I’ve made the transition from Agnostic, to Agnostic atheist, to VOCAL Agnostic atheist. I have evaluated the evidence for god, and I don’t find it to be sufficient to believe that such a being exists. I do not claim to have knowledge that there is no god- simply that, at this point in time, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that god does exist. I’d put myself securely at a 6.9 on the Dawkins’ scale- about as certain there is no god as I am there is no Santa Claus, but while realizing I cannot, and do not, possess the knowledge to say so for certain.
I think that this journey of mine is fairly typical. What I’ve come to realize is that even the most insane, radical, outrageous theist can become logical and rational. We all have the potential to think for ourselves, evaluate evidence, and come to appropriate conclusions. I am proof that the worst of the worst can get out and use that wonderful evolution-given brain to not only assess the world in an appropriate way, but hopefully also stand up for injustices and inequalities produced by the very beliefs that once ruled our lives.